Encapsulating the West Region

THE FIRST ROUND MATCHUPS
1. Duke vs. 16. Hampton
2. SDSU vs. 15. N. Colorado
3. UConn vs. 14. Bucknell
4. Texas vs. 13. Oakland
5. Arizona vs. 12. Memphis
6. Cincy vs. 11. Missouri
7. Temple vs. 10. Penn St.
8. Michigan vs. 9. Tennessee
Other Regions:
EAST
SOUTHEAST
SOUTHWEST
No. 1 Duke vs. No. 16 Hampton
1. DUKE
RECORD: 30-4
RPI: 4th
RECORD VS. NCAA FIELD: 10-3
HOW THEY GOT HERE: Won ACC tournament.
COACH: Mike Krzyzewski (77-22 NCAA tournament record)

PROBABLE STARTERS
F Ryan Kelly, 6-11/235, Soph.
F Mason Plumlee, 6-10/230, Soph.
F Kyle Singler, 6-8/230, Sr.
G Seth Curry, 6-2/180, Soph.
G Nolan Smith, 6-2/185, Sr.
KEY RESERVES
F Miles Plumlee, 6-10/245, Jr.
G Andre Dawkins, 6-4/205, Soph.
G Tyler Thornton, 6-1/185, Fr.

BACKCOURT: Duke boasted the best backcourt in the country before freshman PG Kyrie Irving suffered a toe injury in December that knocked him out for the rest of the season. His status for the tournament remains in doubt. The Blue Devils have survived the loss of Irving because of Smith’s phenomenal season. Smith, who is equally comfortable at either guard spot, has played as well as anyone in the nation this season. Curry, the younger brother of Golden State Warriors guard and former Davidson standout Stephen Curry, averaged 20.2 points per game two years ago at Liberty. He hasn’t approached those numbers in his first season at Duke, but he remains an outstanding shooter as well as a ballhawk on defense. Dawkins was a big factor early, but his playing time dwindled late in the season.
FRONTCOURT: Singler was the most outstanding player of last season’s Final Four and has averaged more than 15 points per game in each of his four seasons on campus. Singler is one of only five players in school history with 2,000 points and 900 rebounds. Singler can score in the paint or from 3-point range. Because Duke’s top frontcourt player is also a dangerous shooter, it should come as little surprise that nearly all the Blue Devils’ scoring comes from the perimeter. The Plumlee brothers provide plenty of rebounds but not many points, while Kelly - a former five-star recruit - offers a shot-blocking presence.
X-FACTOR: Duke knows what it’s going to get from Smith and Singler, but there’s much less certainty regarding Curry and Dawkins. Curry will be playing in his first NCAA tournament, while Dawkins needs to pull out of a late-season tailspin. Smith and Singler are two of the 10 best players in the nation, but they can’t carry Duke to a national title on their own. Assuming Irving remains sidelined for the postseason, the Blue Devils won’t win a second consecutive title without positive contributions from Curry and/or Dawkins.
BUZZ: Duke would have been a prohibitive favorite to win a second consecutive title if Irving hadn’t gotten hurt. The Blue Devils have remained legitimate contenders even without Irving in the lineup, but his injury has put much more pressure on Smith and Singler to carry the load. That duo is good enough to lead Duke on another Final Four run, but picking this team to win a title without a healthy Irving may be asking too much.
- STEVE MEGARGEE
16. HAMPTON
RECORD: 24-8
RPI: 153rd
RECORD VS. NCAA FIELD: 1-0
HOW THEY GOT HERE: Won Mid-Eastern Athletic tourney
COACH: Edward Joyner (first NCAA appearance)

PROBABLE STARTERS
F Danny Agbelese, 6-8/215, Jr.
F Charles Funches, 6-8/210, Sr.
G Kwame Morgan, 6-3/205, Jr.
G Darrion Pellum, 6-6/205, Jr.
G Brandon Tunnell, 6-1/185, Sr.
KEY RESERVES
F/G Wesley Dunning, 6-7/210, Soph.
G Chris Tolson, 6-0/175, Jr.
G Mike Tuitt, 6-3/175, Jr.

BACKCOURT: This is a backcourt-dominated team. Pellum is the leading scorer and a first-team All-MEAC selection. Morgan is the second-leading scorer and a second-team all-league pick. Those two have taken more than half of Hampton’s field-goal attempts. Neither is shy from firing up 3-pointers, and Morgan hits almost 38 percent of his attempts. Pellum has great size for a guard but too often is content to fire away from the perimeter. Both are good rebounders and OK defenders. Tunnell is a pass-first point guard who doesn’t provide much offense. Tuitt is the backup point man, but neither he nor Tolson do much offensively.
FRONTCOURT: Funches is the main (only?) offensive option up front. He’s the third-leading scorer and the leading rebounder. He’s active in the low post and knows how to get to the line. Funches is an aggressive defender and can be foul-prone. Agbelese is a big-time shot-blocker (3.2 per game) and a good rebounder. As for offense? He barely averages more points than blocks. Dunning provides some athleticism and rebounding off the bench.
X-FACTOR: The Pirates are a defense-minded bunch and have allowed more than 70 points just seven times all season. They don’t have the firepower to hang with a high-scoring power-conference school, so it’s vital that the Pirates control the tempo and turn it into a slugfest.
THE BUZZ: Hampton has used the same starting lineup in each game this season. The bench doesn’t provide much offense, and Hampton must get production from Morgan and Pellum if it’s going to stay close. Frankly, just being here as the No. 2 seed from the MEAC is a solid achievement.
- MIKE HUGUENIN
No. 8 Michigan vs. No. 9 Tennessee
8. MICHIGAN
RECORD: 20-13
RPI: 52nd
RECORD VS. NCAA FIELD: 7-9
HOW THEY GOT HERE: At-large selection from the Big Ten
COACH: John Beilein (7-5 NCAA tournament record)

PROBABLE STARTERS
F Jordan Morgan, 6-8/240, R-Fr.
F/G Zack Novak, 6-4/210, Jr.
G Stu Douglass, 6-3/190, Jr.
G Tim Hardaway Jr., 6-5/185, Fr.
G Darius Morris, 6-4/190, Soph.
KEY RESERVES
F Evan Smotrycz, 6-9/225, Fr.
G Matt Vogrich, 6-4/190, Soph.

BACKCOURT: Morris was one of the revelations of the season for Michigan. A bit player last season, he became one of the top point guards in the Big Ten as a sophomore. He can drive to the basket or set up the 3-point threats in the backcourt (he was the only Big Ten player to top 200 assists during the regular season). The main 3-point threat is Hardaway, who finished the season as the best Big Ten freshman who didn’t play at Ohio State. Hardaway is a major threat from the perimeter, but he can also play around the basket. Douglass was the sixth man for most of the year before moving into the starting lineup.
FRONTCOURT: Morgan is Michigan’s best - and sometimes only - big man. He’s developing, but Michigan has to count on him to provide a physical post presence without getting into foul trouble. Novak and Douglass are the only returning starters from last season. Novak is the most versatile player, seeing time at three positions - off-guard, small forward and power forward - this season. Novak’s ability to move around has come in handy as the Wolverines have played with a short bench this season.
X-FACTOR: Anyone familiar with Beilein won’t be shocked to see only one true forward in the starting lineup. The Wolverines have only two players taller than 6-5 in the regular rotation. The small lineup has its positives and negatives. The big negative is Michigan’s performance on the glass. The Wolverines struggled on the boards through Big Ten play. They were outrebounded by nearly six boards per game during the conference regular season.
THE BUZZ: A team with no seniors, Michigan was picked at or near the bottom of the Big Ten by most in the preseason, so it’s a major victory for the Wolverines to make it to the NCAA tournament. That said, it’s clear Michigan isn’t in the same class as Ohio State, Purdue and Wisconsin (the Wolverines went 0-5 against them in the regular season). Michigan’s guard-heavy lineup could cause some teams matchup difficulties, but any team with size is going to give the Wolverines trouble.
- DAVID FOX
9. TENNESSEE
RECORD: 19-14
RPI: 34th
RECORD VS. NCAA FIELD: 9-9
HOW THEY GOT HERE: At-large selection from the SEC
COACH: Bruce Pearl (10-7 NCAA tournament record)

PROBABLE STARTERS
C Josh Fields, 6-9/222, Sr.
F Tobias Harris, 6-8/226, Fr.
G Melvin Goins, 5-11/180, Sr.
G Scotty Hopson, 6-7/200, Jr.
G Cameron Tatum, 6-6/192, Jr.
KEY RESERVES
C Brian Williams, 6-10/272, Sr.
G Josh Bone, 6-3/197, Sr.
G Skylar McBee, 6-3/184, Soph.

BACKCOURT: Hopson came to Tennessee in 2008 as a highly touted recruit, ranked between Brandon Jennings and Tyreke Evans. He’s had his ups and downs, but Hopson played the best basketball of his career in the past month or so after missing two games with an ankle injury in early February. After splitting point guard duties last season, Goins became a full-time player this season. He’s a defensive pest who finished the season as one of the SEC’s steals leaders. Tatum can be 3-point threat, but he finished the regular season in a cold snap. Off the bench, Tennessee has a pair of specialists: McBee for 3-pointers and Bone for defense.
FRONTCOURT: Harris is a skilled power forward who was among the SEC’s leaders in rebounding. He arrived amid a lot of hype, and generally has lived up to it. He has solid offensive skills but, as with numerous freshmen, he has lacked offensive consistency. Williams is a big body and a key veteran, but he missed time late in the season with a back injury. Fields and Marquette transfer Jeronne Maymon saw increased playing time as a result. When Williams is at is best, he is a low-post presence on both ends of the court.
X-FACTOR: The Vols are hoping for some neutral-court magic. Tennessee lost eight games at home, including setbacks to Oakland, USC, Alabama, Georgia and Mississippi State. The Vols had a better conference record on the road (5-3) than at home (3-5). But they had neutral-court wins over Villanova and Pittsburgh. For whatever reason, Knoxville wasn’t kind to Tennessee this season; maybe the change of scenery in the tournament could bring back the Vols’ mojo.
THE BUZZ: Tennessee enters the postseason in need of a fresh start. The Volunteers may have peaked in November and early December. After then, the losses started to pile up, perhaps an off-shoot of coach Bruce Pearl’s eight-game suspension for breaking NCAA rules. The Vols play tenacious, in-your-face defense, and they are an athletic group. But Tennesee also can struggle to score. If Harris or Hopson is struggling, the whole team usually struggles. A Sweet 16 appearance looked like a possibility early in the season; now, winning once should be the goal.
- DAVID FOX
No. 5 Arizona vs. No. 12 Memphis
5. ARIZONA
RECORD: 27-7
RPI: 19th
RECORD VS. NCAA FIELD: 5-6
HOW THEY GOT HERE: At-large selection from the Pac-10
COACH: Sean Miller (6-4 NCAA tournament record)

PROBABLE STARTERS
F Solomon Hill, 6-6/226, Soph.
F Jesse Perry, 6-7/210, Jr.
F Derrick Williams, 6-8/241, Soph.
G Kyle Fogg, 6-3/180, Jr.
G MoMo Jones, 6-0/196, Soph.
KEY RESERVES
F Jamelle Horne 6-7/224, Sr.
G Jordin Mayes, 6-2/185, Fr.
G/F Kevin Parrom, 6-6/205, Soph.

BACKCOURT: The barometer for Arizona’s success this season often has been the play of Jones. An undersized scoring guard still learning how to be a distributor, Jones has shown toughness, leadership and the ability to get to the rim. But he averages only 2.5 assists per game and sometimes struggles determining when to shoot and when to pass. The rest of Arizona’s perimeter players are threats from behind the 3-point arc. When opponents collapse on Williams, Mayes, Parrom, Fogg and Horne can make them pay.
FRONTCOURT: The biggest reason Arizona’s rebuilding process has taken only two seasons is that Williams has developed at a far faster rate than anyone imagined. Despite a right pinkie injury on his shooting hand that has hampered him for the past month, Williams averaged 18.8 points and 8.2 boards in the regular season and ran away with Pac-10 player of the year honors. Hill is a face-up forward who can pose matchup problems against opposing big men with his quickness, but often falls in love with his jump shot. Perry is a glue guy counted on for rebounding and defense more than scoring.
X-FACTOR: Opponents will collapse on Williams, so the key to Arizona’s hopes of a deep NCAA tournament run may be its 3-point shooting. The Wildcats shot 40 percent from behind the arc as a team during the regular season. They can’t afford off shooting nights and expect to win in March.
THE BUZZ: That Arizona won the Pac-10 this season is a testament to Williams’ dominance and Sean Miller’s coaching. Williams doesn’t have nearly the talent around him that previous Arizona teams under Lute Olson had, yet his presence and the Wildcats’ outside shooting gives them realistic hopes of a Sweet 16 run.
- JEFF EISENBERG
12. MEMPHIS
RECORD: 25-9
RPI: 28th
RECORD VS. NCAA FIELD: 3-3
HOW THEY GOT HERE: Won Conference USA tourney
COACH: Josh Pastner (first NCAA appearance)

PROBABLE STARTERS
F Tarik Black, 6-8/252, Fr.
G Antonio Barton, 6-2/165, Fr.
G Will Barton, 6-6/175, Fr.
G Charles Carmouche, 6-3/185, Jr.
G Chris Crawford, 6-4/205, Fr.
KEY RESERVES
F Will Coleman, 6-9/245, Sr.
F/G Will Witherspoon, 6-0/210, Sr.
G Joe Jackson, 6-0/175, Fr.

BACKCOURT: A look at all those “Gs” in Memphis’ starting lineup will tell you this is a guard-oriented team. The Barton brothers have helped spark the Tigers’ success this season. Will Barton, one of the nation’s more versatile players, leads Memphis in scoring and rebounding and ranks second on the team in assists. The one concern with Barton: He’s not a good 3-point shooter (27.3 percent) and he takes a lot of them (39-of-143). While Will Barton arrived at Memphis amid much fanfare, his brother, Antonio, has been a major surprise in his freshman season. Carmouche, a transfer from New Orleans, shoots nearly 40 percent from 3-point range. Crawford leads the Tigers in assists but has shot 29.6 percent from 3-point range. Jackson had a disappointing regular season, but he was the MVP of the Conference USA tournament.
FRONTCOURT: Most of Memphis’ production comes from its guards, but the Tigers do have a few capable frontcourt players. Black has been inconsistent as a freshman, but he’s capable of scoring in double figures. Coleman can provide quality minutes off the bench, and he has averaged 9.5 points over his past two games. The wild card here is Witherspoon. After earning third-team all-conference honors last season, Witherspoon struggled through injuries and a suspension this season. Witherspoon now is coming off the bench, but he could make an impact in the postseason if he recaptures his 2009-10 form.
X-FACTOR: Has Jackson turned the corner? The Memphis high school legend began his freshman season as the Tigers’ starting point guard but endured a major midseason slump that caused him to fall out of the lineup. He averaged 18.7 points per game in the Conference USA tournament and made the winning free throws with seven seconds left in a 67-66 championship game victory over UTEP. If Jackson keeps up that pace, Memphis could do some damage.
BUZZ: Memphis has displayed the kind of inconsistency you expect from a team that depends so heavily on freshmen. The Tigers showed their potential by winning at Gonzaga but they also lost six Conference USA games. Memphis showed plenty of maturity by beating host UTEP in the conference championship game. If the Tigers build on that momentum, they could pull an upset or two despite their youth.
- STEVE MEGARGEE
No. 4 Texas vs. No. 13 Oakland
4. TEXAS
RECORD: 27-7
RPI: 11th
RECORD VS. NCAA FIELD: 8-5
HOW THEY GOT HERE: At-large selection from the Big 12
COACH: Rick Barnes (19-18 NCAA tournament record)

PROBABLE STARTERS
F/G Jordan Hamilton, 6-7/220, Soph.
F Gary Johnson, 6-8/238, Sr.
F Tristan Thompson, 6-8/225, Fr.
G Dogus Balbay, 6-1/175, Sr.
G Cory Joseph, 6-3/185, Fr.
KEY RESERVES
C Matt Hill, 6-10/245, Sr.
F Alexis Wangmene, 6-7/240, Jr.
G J’Covan Brown, 6-1/195, Soph.
G Jai Lucas, 5-10/160, Sr.

BACKCOURT: Texas’ depth on the perimeter is one of its biggest overall strengths, with five guards capable of playing major minutes. Joseph may not boast the talent of Avery Bradley, D.J. Augustin, Daniel Gibson and some of the other Longhorns point guards that came before him. But he has been a steadying force in a backcourt that also has benefitted from veteran leadership supplied by Balbay and Lucas. Brown can be one of Texas’ best offensive weapons. And Hamilton is one of the top threats in the country from long range. Brown and Hamilton are the Longhorns’ only true scorers on the perimeter, but all five guards who contribute are excellent defenders - especially Balbay, the Big 12’s Defensive Player of the Year.
FRONTCOURT: While most postseason lists identify Hamilton as the Longhorns’ top overall player, the true MVP may be Thompson, who has had a major impact on this squad as a freshman. Thompson leads the Big 12 in blocks and also alters a ton of shots. Mix in Johnson, a hard-working senior, and the Longhorns tout one of the more imposing, physical frontcourts in the tournament. Even though most of his points come from the perimeter, Hamilton isn’t afraid to mix it up down low. He leads Texas in rebounds and is more than willing to muscle up for tough baskets in the paint, often absorbing contact from bigger, stronger opponents. Wangmene earns a lot of hustle points off the bench. Hill’s size and length can be an effective weapon.
X-FACTOR: Texas is on another level when Brown comes to play. The problem is that it doesn’t happen often enough. One minute he’s scoring 23 points in a come-from-behind win at Kansas, the next he’s finishing with three against Oklahoma State. It’s been that way all season. In addition, Texas finished last in the Big 12 in free-throw shooting. It’ll have to make more than 63.8 percent of its foul shots if it hopes to make a deep run in the NCAA tournament.
THE BUZZ: Poor regular-season finishes and postseason performances have caused Rick Barnes’ reputation to take a hit in recent years. Texas lost 10 of its final 17 games last season and choked away the Big 12 title this season. Anything short of an Elite Eight appearance would be considered a major disappointment for this talented team.
- JASON KING
13. OAKLAND
RECORD: 25-9
RPI: 53rd
RECORD VS. NCAA FIELD: 1-6
HOW THEY GOT HERE: Won Summit League tourney
COACH: Greg Kampe (1-2 NCAA tournament record)

PROBABLE STARTERS
C Keith Benson, 6-11/230, Sr.
F Will Hudson, 6-9/235, Sr.
F Drew Valentine, 6-5/225, Soph.
G Travis Bader, 6-4/180, R-Fr.
G Reggie Hamilton, 5-11/175, Jr.
KEY RESERVES
G Ryan Bass, 5-10/160, Fr,
G Ledrick Eackles, 6-1/196, Soph.
G Larry Wright, 6-2/165, Sr.

BACKCOURT: Hamilton, a transfer from conference rival Missouri-Kansas City, moved seamlessly into the starting lineup and became the No. 2 offensive option. Hamilton is a talented offensive player who can hit from 3-point range and get to the basket. He shoots 48.8 percent from the floor, a commendable number for a guard who averages 17.4 points and has taken 404 shots. He is excellent from the line, too. While he averages 5.4 assists, he also averages 3.7 turnovers, an indication that he sometimes plays too fast for his own good. Bader is a long-range specialist, as almost 75 percent of his field-goal attempts have come from beyond the arc. He is deadly, too, hitting 45.8 percent of his 201 3-point attempts. It’s good he’s a deadly shooter because defense isn’t his forte. Wright, who began his career at St. John’s, started for much of the season before being moved to the bench. He spent two seasons at Oakland but never made the offensive splash that was expected. He is a great foul shooter (92.4 percent) and became a better distributor this season. Eackles, the son of former NBA player Ladell Eackles, brings athleticism and good defense off the bench.
FRONTCOURT: Benson is a potential first-round pick in the NBA draft. He averages a double-double for the second season in a row and has a variety of low-post moves; he also is adept at drawing contact and getting to the line (he shot 238 free throws this season). He also is one of the best shot-blockers in the nation (3.6 per game). Hudson is a banger who isn’t afraid to throw his weight around. He strictly works in the low post and is a tremendous offensive rebounder; he averages 7.1 rebounds and more than half are on the offensive end. Valentine has some offensive pop and is second on the team in steals.
X-FACTOR: Oakland is at its best when it can run. The Golden Grizzlies bog down in a halfcourt game, so pace is going to be important. They average 85.6 points per game, but in their seven games against Big Six foes, that number was just 68.6. They scored 89 and won at Tennessee, and they scored 76 and lost by one to Michigan State on a neutral court. They lost the other five games by double-digits - and they averaged 63.0 points in those games.
THE BUZZ: Oakland steamrolled Summit League foes after playing a murderous non-conference schedule for the second season in a row. If the Golden Grizzlies are allowed to play their high-tempo game, chances for an upset increase greatly. Benson is a big-timer and will do fine; it’s up to the other guys to come through offensively, particularly Bader. Oakland has to be hot from the outside if it wants to win a first-round game. What makes it even more important to play well offensively is that defense isn’t a priority for the Golden Grizzlies. They’re going to have to score a lot to win.
- MIKE HUGUENIN
No. 6 Cincinnati vs. No. 11 Missouri
6. CINCINNATI
RECORD: 25-8
RPI: 36th
RECORD VS. NCAA FIELD: 6-8
HOW THEY GOT HERE: At-large selection from the Big East
COACH: Mick Cronin (0-2 NCAA tournament record)

PROBABLE STARTERS
F Rashad Bishop, 6-6/220, Sr.
F Yancy Gates, 6-9/265, Jr.
F Ibrahima Thomas, 6-11/235, Sr.
G Dion Dixon, 6-4/190, Jr.
G Cashmere Wright, 6-0/175, Soph.
KEY RESERVES
F Darnell Wilks, 6-7/205, Sr.
G Larry Davis, 6-3/185, Sr.
G Sean Kilpatrick, 6-4/215, R-Fr.

BACKCOURT: Late in the season, coach Mick Cronin was publicly critical of Wright and Dixon. Cincinnati needs both to play at a high level to win, and that didn’t always happen. Few starting guards on good tournament teams have been held scoreless (Dixon) or had numerous single-digit scoring games (Wright). The duo responded late in the season when the Bearcats defeated Marquette and Georgetown. Kilpatrick is streaky off the bench. Cincinnati has been at its best this season when pressing and forcing turnovers, but the offense has struggled in the halfcourt.
FRONTCOURT: Gates was another player whose buttons Cronin pushed this season. Cronin suspended him for a game and benched him later for attitude problems. Gates returned to the lineup as the team’s best and most consistent player. Bishop is perhaps the best defensive player in the Big East, often drawing the assignment to defend the opposing team’s best guard. Bishop and Thomas, a transfer from Oklahoma State, give Cincinnati senior leadership.
X-FACTOR: Who is going to take charge in tight spots in the NCAA tournament? Cronin has been critical of Gates and his guards, and Cincinnati lacks a go-to scorer. The Bearcats didn’t place anyone on the top three All-Big East teams (Kilpatrick was the lone honoree, on the all-rookie team).
THE BUZZ: Cronin appeared to have a chip on his shoulder for much of the season; he pledged that his team would be better this season despite losing its top two scorers, he lobbied in vain for postseason accolades for Bishop, he complained that his team goes unnoticed or underappreciated. Cincinnati has its flaws, but if the Bearcats can play with their coach’s edge, the Bearcats could overcome those shortcomings for a round or two.
- DAVID FOX
11. MISSOURI
RECORD: 23-10
RPI: 37th
RECORD VS. NCAA FIELD: 4-7
HOW THEY GOT HERE: At-large selection from Big 12
COACH: Mike Anderson (7-5 NCAA record)

PROBABLE STARTERS
F Laurence Bowers, 6-8/210, Jr.
F Ricardo Ratliffe, 6-8/240, Jr.
G Marcus Denmon, 6-3/185, Jr.
G Michael Dixon, 6-1/180, Soph.
G Kim English, 6-6/200, Jr.
KEY RESERVES
F Steve Moore, 6-9/270, Jr.
F Justin Safford, 6-9, 230, Sr.
G Ricky Kreklow, 6-6/195, Fr.
G Phil Pressey, 5-10/168, Fr.

BACKCOURT: Guards are the strength of any Anderson-coached team, and this season is no different. Denmon appeared to be a lock for first-team All-Big 12 honors before fading a bit down the stretch. But he’s still enjoyed a magnificent season. His clutch play and ability to score from long range is the main reason Missouri enters the tournament with 23 victories. Dixon and English also average double figures. Pressey has posted some gaudy assists totals off the bench, but he isn’t much of a scoring threat and his decision-making has been terrible at times, which isn’t uncommon for a freshman.
FRONTCOURT: The Tigers’ big men were among the team’s chief concerns entering the season. But the play of Bowers and juco transfer Ratliffe - the Big 12 Newcomer of the Year - has been a pleasant surprise. The duo combined to average 22.3 points and 12.3 rebounds. Bowers possesses a soft shooting touch that has made him lethal from mid-range. Ratliffe is more of a physical presence who isn’t afraid to bang. Safford, who was one of Missouri’s top post players last season, plays about 17 minutes off the bench. One of the more underrated players on Missouri’s roster, at least during the past few weeks, has been Moore, who doesn’t contribute much in the scoring department but adds a lot in terms of hustle and dirty work.
X-FACTOR: Missouri is a difficult draw for any team in the NCAA tournament because the Tigers play an unorthodox style that can be difficult to prepare for in a day or two. The Tigers, though, haven’t used their “Forty Minutes of Hell” defense as much as they have in years past, which may make things a bit easier on their opponent.
THE BUZZ: Missouri enters the NCAA tournament on a down note after losing its final three-regular season games, then getting blown out by Texas A&M in the second round of the Big 12 tournament. What began as a promising regular season ended with an 8-8 finish in a mediocre league. This team isn’t aggressive enough offensively, it doesn’t defend as well as it has in the past and it appears to lack chemistry.
- JASON KING
No. 3 Connecticut vs. No. 14 Bucknell
3. CONNECTICUT
RECORD: 26-9
RPI: 14th
RECORD VS. NCAA FIELD: 12-9
HOW THEY GOT HERE: Won Big East tourney
COACH: Jim Calhoun (45-19 NCAA tournament record)

PROBABLE STARTERS
C Charles Okwandu, 7-0/255, Sr.
F Alex Oriakhi, 6-9/240, Soph.
F Roscoe Smith, 6-8/205, Fr.
G Jeremy Lamb, 6-5/185, Fr.
G Kemba Walker, 6-1/172, Jr.
KEY RESERVES
F Jamal Coombs-McDaniel, 6-7/210, Soph.
F Niels Giffey, 6-7/210, Fr.
G Donnell Beverly, 6-4/190, Sr.
G Shabazz Napier, 6-0/170, Fr.

BACKCOURT: Walker was one of the nation’s leading scorers through the first two months of the season, but by the time Big East play began, Walker cooled a bit. Walker didn’t even win the Big East scoring title, but he’s still a big-time scorer - as he showed in the past five games at the Big East tournament, leading the Huskies to the title. He can shoot a little too much at times, but who else for the Huskies should have the ball in crunch time? Lamb and Napier were revelations as Connecticut entered conference play, but this is still the Kemba Walker show.
FRONTCOURT: Jim Calhoun’s best Connecticut teams have had a star in the frontcourt - Hasheem Thabeet, Jeff Adrien, Rudy Gay, Emeka Okafor. The Huskies this season have come up short in that department. Oriakhi can be a big-time rebounder (21 boards against Texas, 17 against Michigan State, 15 against Marquette), but he hasn’t been consistent. Calhoun has been particularly displeased with his team’s rebounding late in games. Calhoun tinkered with his lineup late in the season by starting Coombs-McDaniel and Giffey, but the lineup changes haven’t had the desired results.
X-FACTOR: Walker is clearly the focal point for the Huskies. One-man teams have had success in the NCAA tournament in the past, but the Huskies had some problems late in the season when the supporting cast struggled. Walker is going to score, so the Huskies need their role players to play consistently if they’re going to win in the postseason.
THE BUZZ: The standards are high at Connecticut, but it’s still something of a victory for the Huskies to be back in the field after a one-year absence and off-court distractions (the NCAA investigation and subsequent sanctions). Walker may provide some tournament highlights, but the Huskies have battled their limitations all season and eventually are going to lose because of those limitations. The question is whether they can win more than two games.
- DAVID FOX
14. BUCKNELL
RECORD: 25-8
RPI: 79th
RECORD VS. NCAA FIELD: 2-3
HOW THEY GOT HERE: Won Patriot League tourney
COACH: Dave Paulsen (first NCAA appearance)

PROBABLE STARTERS
C Mike Muscala, 6-11/232, Soph.
F Joe Willman, 6-7/207, Soph.
G Bryan Cohen, 6-5/202, Jr.
G Bryson Johnson, 6-1/186, Soph.
G Darryl Shazier, 6-0/178, Sr.
KEY RESERVES
G G.W. Boon, 6-4/216, Sr.
G Cameron Ayers, 6-5/200, Fr.

BACKCOURT: Johnson is the Bison’s second-leading scorer and does almost all his damage from the perimeter. In two seasons, Johnson has made 195 baskets - and 163 of them have been 3-pointers. He is shooting a sizzling 45.9 percent from beyond the arc this season. He’s also deadly from the line. Shazier, a four-year starter, is a true pass-first point man. He has a sterling 4.2-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio. His scoring is way down, but it certainly hasn’t hurt the team. He can be a pesky on-ball defender and leads the team in steals. Cohen is a two-time Patriot League defensive player of the year. While he isn’t much of an offensive threat, he is a solid rebounder. Boon is the third-leading scorer and can score inside and out. Ayers has a high basketball IQ, not surprising when you consider his dad is former Ohio State and NBA coach Randy Ayers.
FRONTCOURT: Muscala was the player of the year in the Patriot and is an agile big man; he averages 14.9 points, 7.4 rebounds and 2.0 blocks. He has a nice mid-range game and assortment of moves in the low post; he also is adept at getting to the line and shoots 81.2 percent once he gets there. Willman isn’t bulky but he is physical and isn’t afraid to bump and grind.
X-FACTOR: If Bucknell can get to the line, it’ll be in good shape. These guys are money from the free-throw stripe, hitting 78.6 percent (third-best in the nation). Of the seven guys who will see appreciable minutes, five shoot at least 81 percent from the line, one (Shazier) is at 75.0 percent and one (Cohen) is at 67 percent.
THE BUZZ: Bucknell stunned Kansas as a No. 14 seed in 2005, then won as a No. 9 in 2006 over Arkansas. Obviously, all those players (and the coach, too) are gone. But this is a fundamentally sound group with a talented big man, an experienced senior point guard and dead-eye shooters from beyond the arc and at the line. A lack of depth and a lack of bulk will hurt, but these guys are capable of a first-round upset if they get the right matchup.
- MIKE HUGUENIN
No. 7 Temple vs. No. 10 Penn State
7. TEMPLE
RECORD: 25-7
RPI: 30th
RECORD VS. NCAA FIELD: 4-5
HOW THEY GOT HERE: At-large selection from the Atlantic 10
COACH: Fran Dunphy (1-12 NCAA tournament record)

PROBABLE STARTERS
F Lavoy Allen, 6-9/225, Sr.
F Rahlir Jefferson, 6-6/200, Soph.
G Aaron Brown, 6-5/210, Fr.
G Juan Fernandez, 6-4/180, Jr.
G Ramone Moore, 6-4/, Jr.
KEY RESERVES
F Scootie Randall, 6-9/205, Sr.
G Khalif Wyatt, 6-4/205, Soph.

BACKCOURT: Moore took off at midseason a year ago and never looked back. He became the go-to scorer for the Owls this season. He can take over games, but he’s not immune to having an off-night. Fernandez is a solid, veteran point guard who has taken a somewhat smaller role with the emergence of Moore and Randall. Brown spent most of the season as a reserve, but he was pressed into a starting role when Randall was sidelined with a foot injury. Brown had a couple of standout performances, but Temple sorely needs Randall.
FOURTCOURT: Thanks to injuries, Allen is the only real inside presence in a small lineup. Allen is an experienced forward and a double-double threat every game. Jefferson is a solid rebounder and the second-leading shot-blocker. He’s a solid passer, but he’s far from a major option as a scorer.
X-FACTOR: Randall hasn’t played since Feb. 17 because of a foot injury. That has added to Temple’s injury woes: C Michael Eric suffered a season-ending knee injury Feb. 15. Randall, though, is considered day-to-day and could return. Temple’s chances of winning a first-round game improve greatly if the Owls get Randall, their third-leading scorer and top 3-point threat, back for the tournament.
THE BUZZ: Few programs and coaches are in more dire need of a tournament win. Temple wasn’t won a tournament game since going to the Elite Eight under John Chaney in 2001. With three losses at Temple, Dunphy is riding his own 10-game NCAA tournament losing streak dating to 1994 at Penn. Temple didn’t lose back-to-back games all year, so maybe the loss to Richmond in the A-10 semifinal is a good omen. The Owls have the toughness to win at least once, but do they have enough offense?
- DAVID FOX
10. PENN STATE
RECORD: 19-14
RPI: 39th
RECORD VS. NCAA FIELD: 5-10
HOW THEY GOT HERE: At-large from the Big Ten
COACH: Ed DeChellis (0-1 NCAA tournament record)

PROBABLE STARTERS
F Jeff Brooks, 6-8/215, Sr.
F David Jackson, 6-7/210, Sr.
F Andrew Jones, 6-10/245, Sr.
G Talor Battle, 6-0/170, Sr.
G Tim Frazier, 6-1/160, Soph.
KEY RESERVES
G Jermaine Marshall, 6-4/190, R-Fr.
G Billy Oliver, 6-8/220, Fr.
G/F Cammeron Woodyard, 6-5/210, Jr.

BACKCOURT: Battle’s long wait to play in the NCAA tournament finally has ended. He’s been through just about everything. As a sophomore, he came close to the tournament but had to settle for the NIT championship. He had little help last season, when he led Penn State in scoring, rebounds, assists and steals. Battle is a fantastic scorer and shot-maker. With an improved supporting cast, Battle set career-highs in scoring and 3-pointers. Frazier’s improvement was one of the keys to the season. Most of the time, he’s not a prolific scorer. But he can set up Battle and, like his teammate, he can rebound despite his lack of size.
FRONTCOURT: Brooks leads a frontcourt with three senior starters. In his final season, Brooks became a reliable second scoring option after Battle. Brooks is a long and athletic forward who can score from the perimeter. After Battle and Brooks, Jackson is the only other player averaging in double figures.
X-FACTOR: Fatigue could play a role. Penn State needed everything it had just to get into the NCAA tournament, playing four games in four days. What will Penn State have left in the tank for the NCAA tournament? This is a low-scoring team that likes to slow the game and limit possessions (Exhibit A: The 36-33 win over Wisconsin in a Big Ten tourney quarterfinal). If Penn State runs into an up-tempo, well-rested team, the Nittany Lions could be in trouble.
BUZZ: Michigan State, Michigan and Illinois entered the Big Ten tournament with something to prove, but Penn State made the biggest statement. The Nittany Lions earned their first tournament bid since 2001 with an impressive run in the tourney. But the fairy-tale story likely ends in the first round, though the Nittany Lions could win a game because of their grittiness.
- DAVID FOX
No. 2 San Diego State vs. No. 15 Northern Colorado
2. SAN DIEGO STATE
RECORD: 32-2
RPI: 3rd
RECORD VS. NCAA FIELD: 6-2
HOW THEY GOT HERE: Won Mountain West tourney
COACH: Steve Fisher (20-9 NCAA tournament record)

PROBABLE STARTERS
F Kawhi Leonard, 6-7/225, Soph.
F Malcolm Thomas, 6-9, 220, Sr.
F Billy White, 6-8/235, Sr.
G D.J. Gay, 6-0/170, Sr.
G Chase Tapley, 6-2/200, Soph.
KEY RESERVES
C Brian Carwell, 6-11/300, Sr.
F Tim Shelton, 6-8/245, Jr.
G James Rahon, 6-5/205, Soph.

BACKCOURT: There’s a reason coach Steve Fisher named Gay a captain without bothering to take a team vote. He’s San Diego State’s leader, its steadying influence and a point guard so solid that he went an incomprehensible 177 minutes without a turnover and leads the Mountain West in assist-to-turnover ratio at better than 4-to-1. Tapley isn’t an explosive athlete, but he’s a capable shooter, finisher and defender. Rahon, a Santa Clara transfer, is San Diego State’s designated zone buster, shooting almost 43 percent from 3-point range.
FRONTCOURT: The trio of White, Thomas and Leonard form one of the nation’s top frontcourts. White is a long-armed, versatile defender capable of sinking mid-range jumpers and scoring in transition. Thomas has a soft touch around the rim and an ability to score via offensive rebounds or with his back to the basket. Leonard is a potential NBA lottery pick who can guard all five positions and rebound as well as any forward in the nation. His jump shot and ballhandling remain works-in-progress, but one Mountain West coach recently attributed his rebounding prowess to hands the size of toilet seats.
X-FACTOR: Opposing defenses have clogged the lane to force San Diego State to beat them from the perimeter, so one of the keys for the Aztecs is their perimeter shooting. Rahon has been consistent all season. Whether Tapley and Gay also knock down shots in the postseason will go a long way toward determining San Diego State’s potential for a deep tournament run.
THE BUZZ: In addition to becoming the first San Diego State team ever to enter the national rankings or to receive a seed better than No. 11, these Aztecs now have a golden opportunity to notch the program’s first-ever NCAA tournament win. They have the defense and rebounding prowess to reach the second weekend of the tournament and contend for a Final Four berth, but their hopes will rest on their ability to hit jump shots in the halfcourt offense and their poise in postseason situations they’ve never faced before.
- JEFF EISENBERG
15. NORTHERN COLORADO
RECORD: 21-10
RPI: 99th
RECORD VS. NCAA FIELD: 0-2
HOW THEY GOT HERE: Won Big Sky tournament
COACH: Jim Ferry (first NCAA appearance)

PROBABLE STARTERS
C Taylor Montgomery, 6-7/245, Sr.
F Chris Kaba, 6-8/190, Sr.
F Neal Kingman, 6-7/220, Sr.
G Devon Beitzel, 6-1/180, Sr.
G Elliott Lloyd, 6-2/175, Soph.
KEY RESERVES
C/F Emmanuel Addo, 6-8/220, R-Fr.
F/C Mike Proctor, 6-8/225, Jr.
G Paul Garnica, 6-0/160, Fr.
G Tate Unruh, 6-4/170, R-Fr.

BACKCOURT: Beitzel, the Big Sky’s player of the year, is the Bears’ key performer. He is a talented offensive player (21.4 ppg), shooting 47.9 percent from the field, including 38.4 percent from the 3-point line, and 90.3 percent from the line. He’s also a solid defender despite playing 35 minutes per game. Lloyd can hit the 3-pointer, but his main role is as a distributor. He’s foul-prone, which could be a problem in the NCAAs. Garnica, the leading career scorer in San Antonio high school history, provides defense off the bench and does an adequate job as a backup point man.
FRONTCOURT: Montgomery has a big body and isn’t afraid to use it. But he has no offensive skills and shoots an abysmal 36.6 percent from the floor. Kingman has a nice outside stroke and is the Bears’ second-leading scorer. Kaba is athletic and also does a lot of his offensive damage on the perimeter; he is a skilled defender. Proctor - who has distinctive sideburns - adds a physical presence off the bench and is the Bears’ best rebounder. Addo can provide some offense off the bench.
X-FACTOR: Beitzel has to be hot for the Bears to have any kind of shot. He enters the NCAA tourney having scored at least 22 points in nine consecutive games and in 12 of the past 15. He’s not afraid to fire away from beyond the arc, but he’d better be hitting his shots.
THE BUZZ: This is just the fourth full season in Division I for Northern Colorado. First-year coach B.J. Hill had been a Bears assistant, and he was promoted quickly after Tad Boyle left to coach Colorado in the offseason. Northern Colorado is the epitome of a team that should just be happy to be here. But because of Beitzel and their ability to hit from beyond the arc, the Bears’ short stay in the NCAAs should be a fun one.
- MIKE HUGUENIN